Comic Book Men guest star Neal Adams talks about his pioneering career in comics books and how the comic book industry has grown since the sixties.
Q: How did you get started drawing in comics?
A: The first work I ever did in comics was for Archie Comics, and I didn’t do that very long because I did other stuff. I became a commercial artist; I did comics for advertising and promotions, newspapers and magazines. Finally, I got a syndicated strip before I was 21 years old. I was doing very well and I had bypassed, in effect, comic books. But the strip came to an end because I took a stand against the writing, and then things slowed down in the commercial art field and I thought, well maybe I’ll just take a few weeks and try to do some comic books if they’re still around. So I went to DC Comics and got some work from some of the editors. Even though I had taken a different route, I found myself falling in love with the medium and I have since become, well God knows, a legend.
Q: What was the comic industry like when you first started working in the sixties?
A: They didn’t know it was going to last one more year. They all told me I was wasting my time. I wanted to do The Fly and some other comic books that were being done by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. I handed in professional samples and they put me on the the phone with Joe Simon who said, “Kid, I saw your samples, and I would use them, but all I would be doing is ruining your life.” He said the business wouldn’t last a year and we’d all be gone.
Q: Now of course comics are bigger than ever. Where do you think the comic industry is going today?
A: Pretend you’re walking down the street and everyone is looking at you, and you don’t know why. Suddenly, someone says you have a tail. “What?” you say and whip around, but you can’t see the tail. That’s what the industry is like: it doesn’t know it has a tail. It has no idea what’s going on, it doesn’t know what its future is, it doesn’t know what its past is. It just knows that it’s making tons and tons of money and doing very well. Comic shops are getting bigger and getting more interested. They’re not locked away in some garrett in SoHo where you have to walk in with a lantern just to see the stuff. Now there’s hundreds of comic conventions in the United States, with thousands and thousands of people. It’s taking over the world. We don’t know where it’s going, but we do know that comic books seem to be moving into a central location.
Q: You’re known for bringing a new realistic and dynamic style to comics. Can you talk about that?
A: I changed the layout of comic books in general. When I came in, layout design wasn’t really part of what you did. It was all just panels, panels, panels. So when I came in, I thought, “Nah, let’s change that” and I designed the page. I did work more realistically, I used real anatomy, faces with expressions — not Dick Tracy with his one slip of the mouth and that’s it, but actual expressions on the faces that made the characters look like they were saying what was in the balloons. It wasn’t just a guy with a bunch of lines on his body and then a mask — it was a real guy in a real costume, with real anatomy. It wasn’t as though I did anything new. People give me a great deal of credit for doing something new, but that stuff was being done in illustration for hundreds of years. It’s just that I studied everybody, but comic book guys would study comic book guys, so they would keep repeating the same mistakes. But I got my inspiration from reality and then brought it back to comic books.
Q: Was that something DC had a problem with, implementing new designs at an already turbulent time?
A: It sold comic books so they were fine. At that time, Jack Kirby was revamping Marvel with Stan [Lee], and DC Comics hadn’t had competition in ten years. So suddenly to find a Neal Adams, who would go off in all these other directions, brought a lot of attention back to DC Comics, so they loved it.
Q: What is it like seeing your work adapted to movies and television today?
A: You kind of have a smile and a wink. We’re a community of creative people who borrow from each other all the time. I just happen to be borrowed from a lot more than other people. Which is kind of nice! There’s all these scenes that I’ve done that live in people’s memories that they can’t wait to see on screen. I like it, I think it’s great.
Q: You bring in the Superman vs. Muhammed Ali cover during your visit at the Stash. Do you have a cover or panel you’re particularly proud of?
A: No, because if I say that and I turn out my favorite cover tomorrow, what would that mean? You hope the best piece you’re going to do is the one you’re going to do tomorrow.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Now I’m getting the opportunity to do Jack Kirby’s New Gods and having a great time. Neal has a good time all the time. It’s really nice to be Neal Adams.
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